Tracey M. Hopkins
What does it take to be an extraordinary healer? There are many terms that could be inserted here: “caring,” “compassionate,” “knowledgeable,” “skilled,” “a good listener.” I used to think that I knew that answer, having been on the professional caregiver side for my entire 25-plus-year career. But, from the other side of the caregiving fence, the answer goes much deeper than I realized.
When my strong, healthy husband suddenly received a diagnosis of stage 4 large cell neuroendocrine cancer, we were thrust into patient and caregiver roles. His treatments began in a blur after a week in the hospital. We met many caring nurses and caregivers along the way. However, we faced another challenge when our oncologist suddenly left his practice. This is the oncologist who gave us the initial diagnosis, guiding us and helping us through those first eight months of chemotherapy and treatments, and whom we had learned to rely on and trust so much. This meant finding a new oncologist and also changing infusion centers. We were nearly overwhelmed again, entering a new area of the unknown. Only after making all these changes did we have the unforeseen blessing of meeting Rubirosa Ison, RN, our oncology infusion nurse. Ruby (as she is nicknamed) is the epitome of the extraordinary healer that all caregivers hope to be and the treatment nurse that every patient needs.
From left: Tracey M. Hopkins, PT, her husband, Earl Hopkins, and Ruby Ison, RN. Photos by Sherri Kelly.
On our very first anxious day at our new infusion center, my husband and I quickly knew that we were in the right place for his ongoing treatment. Ruby immediately put us at ease with her caring and upbeat demeanor, even though she was not our primary nurse at that visit. On that first day, Ruby told us about an upcoming local patient summit happening just two weeks later. After eight months of learning about the cancer experience, we were unaware that these types of events even existed. Ruby shared the information with us, and we excitedly made arrangements to attend. That summit truly gave us a glimmer of hope, as this was the first time that we got to see and hear from actual patients with cancer who had beat the statistics that are sometimes hard to ignore. Ruby also attended that summit, spending her free Saturday at an all-day event.
Ruby dedicates herself to oncology, spending her unscheduled time at seminars and lectures, researching the ever-evolving progress of cancer treatments and always putting her patients first. Ruby also studied for and recently passed her oncology certified nursing exam. I spend my time researching the latest trends and studies in oncology that are relevant to my husband so that I can be his best advocate. It never ceases to amaze me that Ruby is always aware of the same things I read in between treatments. I do it specifically for my husband. Ruby does it for all her patients. Now, that is special!
Regardless of the day or the demands of her job, Ruby greets my husband and every patient with a smile and stops to talk — really talk — and listen, as if he is the only patient in the world. I understand the many demands of health care and those days when the to-do list regarding patients appears impossible. However, Ruby never indicates that to her patients. Her attitude and professionalism every day somehow make walking into a cancer treatment center a little less stressful. Not to mention, Ruby is also a skilled clinician, able to start an IV on the first attempt on my “hard to stick” husband every time. He had left another infusion center looking like he lost a boxing match. After five failed attempts, it became a bad family bet: “How may sticks will it take today?” I’m happy to say, we have since retired that game. If you or your loved one is getting stuck on a regular basis, then you can understand how increasingly important that is.
Ruby is a great nurse — trust me, I’ve worked with a lot in my career — a wonderful advocate for her patients and an excellent resource for those who have questions. As a frontline caregiver, she is always available to give answers, from questions about lab value meanings to “Why do I feel this way?” If she does not know an answer, she will seek it out or readily bring in someone else, including the doctor or pharmacist, to address any questions or needs.
Ruby truly knows her patients from the clinical side (reviewing the chart before we come in) to the personal side (remembering those little details that make her patients feel special and not just identifiable as “Room 22”).
Ruby is our angel on good days and not-so-good days, as she is to every other patient whose life she touches. Written words are not powerful enough to express how Ruby has and continues to travel beside us on the rocky path called cancer.